CHICAGO (AP) – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett denied on Monday that he organized an anti-gay and racist assault on himself, testifying in court that “there was no hoax” and that he was the victim of a hate crime in his neighborhood in downtown Chicago.
Smollett, who has been charged with lying to Chicago police about the January 2019 attack, tried last week to refute devastating testimony from the two brothers. They said that Smollett, gay and black, organized the prank to get public attention by giving them $ 100 for supplies and ordering him to put a noose around his neck and shout homophobic insults. They also said that Smollett gave them a check for $ 3,500 to pay.
Smollett looked calm throughout several hours of testimony, saying that he wrote a check for $ 3,500 to Abimbola Osendaro for advice on nutrition and exercise. When asked by his protector if he was paying Osendaro for some kind of hoax, Smollett replied, “Never.”
Lawyer Nenye Uche asked again if he had planned the rally.
“No,” Smollett said, “there was no hoax.”
He also said “absolutely not” when asked if he had given Osendaro and his brother $ 100 to pay for supplies for the fake attack.
Smollett told the jury that he had just returned from a trip and was walking home after buying a sandwich around 2 a.m. on January 29, 2019, when someone shouted out a racist homophobic remark. Smollett said he turned to face the man he said was towered over him.
Standing in a Chicago courtroom, Smollett demonstrated how he said the man walked up to him quickly and then pointed to his left temple to show where the man had hit him.
“I would like to think I struck. But I don’t know if he landed, ”Smollett said. He said he slipped and they fought on the ground for up to 30 seconds. Smollett said he saw a second man who he believed kicked him in the side as he fled.
READ MORE: Jassie Smollett’s trial begins with the Osendairo brothers in the spotlight
Smollett said he believed the attacker was white because he used racial slurs and shouted out “Country MAGA,” which is a clear reference to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”. Brothers Abimbola and Olabino Osendaro, who are both black, revealed last week that Smollett instructed them to shout “this is MAGA country” during a fake attack.
Smollett said he took his phone and told the person he was talking to that he was “jumped.” He noticed that he had a noose around his neck when he returned to his apartment. Smollett said he removed the noose, but a friend who was at his apartment called the police and told him to put the noose back on so the police could see it. Smollett said he was upset when he was called to the police because he would never have done it.
“I am a black man in America. I don’t trust the police, ”Smollett said. “I, too, was a well-known figure at the time and I am openly gay.”
After the news broke, Smollett said that everyone, including Trump, has an opinion about what happened and that he hates the attention.
“I have lost my livelihood,” he added.
During cross-examination, Smollett stated that he refused to provide Chicago police with his cell phone for an investigation because he wanted to maintain confidentiality. Asked by Special Attorney Dan Webb if he was worried that the phone would show multiple calls to Abimbola Osendaro, Smollett replied in the negative.
Smollett also testified that Osendaro told him that he could get an herbal steroid that promotes weight loss, but is illegal in the US “at a low level” – or secretly – during his upcoming trip to Nigeria.
Osendaro testified that Smollett had texted him about the conversation “at a low level,” and that during the conversation, Smollett had asked him for help in organizing the attack. Smollett said on Monday that the message was related to an illegal steroid.
When Webb asked about Osendaro’s testimony that Smollett had recruited him to cheat, Smollett replied, “Completely false, 100% false.”
Defense lawyers speculated that the Osendaro brothers accused Smollett of staging the prank because they didn’t like him and then saw an opportunity to make money. They suggested that after the brothers were questioned by the police about the alleged attack, they asked Smollett $ 1 million each so that they would not testify against him in court.
Smollett’s lawyers also argued that Chicago police were quick to reach a verdict when they brought charges against Smollett.
Smollett said he met Abimbola Osendairo in 2017 at the club, where he learned that Osendairo was also working on the Empire set. He said the two men took drugs together and went to a bathhouse where, according to Smollett, they “kissed.” He said the two men later took more drugs and engaged in intercourse together. Osendaro revealed last week that he and Smollett had no sexual relationship.
Smollett testified that he met with Abimbola’s brother, Olabino, but they did not speak. He said that Abimbola Osendaro pretended they needed to “slip away” when they were with his brother. Smollett said he never trusted Olabino Osendairo.
Prosecutors allege that Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was unhappy with Imperia’s reaction to the hate letters he received. The letter included a drawing of a man hanging from a noose with a pistol pointed at him, and the word “MAGA”.
Brett Mahoney, producer of Empire in Chicago, revealed on Monday that law enforcement was contacted and the letter was handed over to authorities. He said that Smollett agreed to add security on set, but didn’t want anyone to follow him home because it was too intrusive.
Smollett revealed that he thought the studio was doing or offering too much security, like wanting someone to drive him to and from the set. He said that Abimbola Osundaro was joking about becoming his guard, but did not take it seriously.
Also on Monday, security guard Anthony Moore said that around the time of the alleged attack, he saw a man on the ground at the end of the block and two fleeing men, one of whom was white. Moore said he told police about what he saw, but when he was later questioned by a special prosecutor, he felt pressured to change his story. Moore testified that he had signed a statement saying the man was “possibly” black, but that he felt “pressured and threatened to put something in there that I didn’t see.”
During cross-examination, Moore said he only saw the man for a second or two. He also said that he thought the men were fooling around and that the two men were laughing as they ran past him.
Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of hooliganism for what prosecutors believed was a false police report of an alleged assault (one count per report) by three different police officers. A class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts said that if Smollett was found guilty, he would likely be put on probation and ordered to do community service.